Omega-3 As Effective As ADHD Drugs in Increasing Attention Study
Wed, April 21, 2021

Omega-3 As Effective As ADHD Drugs in Increasing Attention Study

Fish oil supplements can provide the same benefits in treating ADHD in children with omega-3 deficiency, according to scientists from Taiwan and Britain / Photo by: Africa Studio via Shutterstock

 

Fish oil supplements can provide the same benefits in treating ADHD in children with omega-3 deficiency, according to scientists from Taiwan and Britain. Their collaborative study trialed omega-3 supplements in children with ADHD and found that these supplements can help boost attention just as much as drug treatments. However, the efficacy is only limited to children whose blood levels are low on omega-3. The results of the study were detailed in the latest issue of the journal Translational Psychiatry.

 

A Personalized Approach

The study involved 92 children with ADHD aged 6 to 18 in a randomized controlled trial, where they were given high doses of either an omega-3 fatty acid EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) or a placebo for 12 weeks.

At the end of the trial, the researchers found improvements in focused attention and vigilance in children with the lowest EPA levels after taking omega-3 supplements, according to the medical news site Medical Xpress.

It added that the general effect size of methylphenidate in improving attention and vigilance is 0.22 to 0.42, but the trial with omega-3 supplements showed larger improvements at 0.89 for focused attention and 0.83 for vigilance for children with low blood levels of EPA.

However, these improvements were not observed in those with high or normal blood levels of EPA. In fact, the supplements led to negative effects on impulsivity symptoms in children with high pre-existing blood levels of EPA.

These findings suggested that the omega-3's efficacy is limited to just some children with ADHD, thus, bringing a personalized medicine approach, Medical Xpress said.

"Our results suggest that fish oil supplements are at least as effective for attention as conventional pharmacological treatments among those children with ADHD who have [an] omega-3 deficiency," said Dr. Jane Chang, a co-lead researcher from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London. "On the other hand, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and parents should always consult with their children's psychiatrists," given that their work demonstrated possible side effects for some children.

Suggestive Findings

Jessica Agney-Blais, a psychiatry researcher at King's College London, did not agree with the assessment of the study.

According to the Daily Mail, a British daily newspaper, Agney-Blais said the findings remain suggestive due to the small number of participants with low baseline EPA levels. There were only 29 of them, meaning only about 15 people in the fish oil group had low baseline EPA levels compared to about 15 in the placebo group.

"It is very important to keep in mind that this study did not find any benefit of fish oil supplementation over placebo on ADHD symptom levels or emotional problems among participants," she noted

While the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids on children with ADHD is still in question, they are still useful for otherwise healthy kids. The supplement can aid in improving brain health since the body uses them to develop cells around the body and within the brain.

Omega-3 fatty acids were also found to have the same effects as antioxidants and can reduce swelling, which can boost healthier cells and lower the risk of dysfunction.

Kuan-Pin Su, one of the authors from China Medical University in Taiwan, said significant blood levels of EPA without the use of supplements can be met by eating plenty of fish—an eating habit common in Asian countries like Taiwan and Japan.

"It is possible that EPA deficiency is more common among children with ADHD in countries with less fish consumption such as in North America and many countries in Europe and that fish oil supplementation could, therefore, have more widespread benefits for treating the condition than in our study," he added, as per the Daily Mail.

While the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids on children with ADHD is still in question, they are still useful for otherwise healthy kids / Photo by: Photographee.eu via Shutterstock

 

Banking on an Earlier Study

Earlier work by the same group of scientists concluded that children low in omega-3 are more likely to have more severe ADHD occurrences compared to kids with normal or high blood levels of EPA.

The scientists conducted a systemic review of randomized controlled trials that looked into the effect of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) on clinical symptoms. A meta-analysis was then conducted following the review.

Published in 2017 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, the study found that omega-3 PUFAs improved the clinical symptoms scores of children with ADHD by 0.38 and attention by 1.09.

The study also involved a systemic review of case-control studies that looked into the PUFAs levels of children with ADHD. Results showed children with ADHD have lower levels of DHA (0.76), EPA (0.38), and PUFAs (0.58).

"In summary, there is evidence that [omega-3 PUFAs supplement] improves clinical symptoms and cognitive performances in children and adolescents with ADHD," the researchers said.

However, this earlier work is limited in the sense that it doesn't have actual data that links DHA/EPA baseline levels and EPA/DHA concentrations after treatment and response.

Still, the researchers remain confident that these findings are "reliable" and that they have provided "strong evidence" that supports the role of omega-3 deficiency in ADHD and for advocating the supplement "as a clinically relevant intervention in this group, especially if guided by a biomarker-based personalization approach."

As ADHD remains one of the top concerns of parents on their children, these studies that look into the possible treatment of the condition are definitely most welcome and should be supported.